Saturday, 21 July 2018

Hold by Michael Donkor

Hold by Michael Donkor
Published in the UK by Fourth Estate on the 12th July 2018.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository : from £8.94 (HB)
Wordery : from £10.34 (HB)
Waterstones : from £10.99 (HB)
Amazon : from $4.79 / £3.94 (used HB)
Prices and availability may have changed since this post was written

Moving between Ghana and London, Hold is an intimate, powerful coming-of-age novel. It’s a story of friendship and family, shame and forgiveness; of learning what we should cling to, and when we need to let go.

‘You have to imagine. That’s how I told myself.’
‘Imagine what?’
‘Imagine that you are the kind of girl that can cope with it, even if you are not.’

Belinda knows how to follow the rules. She has learnt the right way to polish water glasses, to wash and fold a hundred handkerchiefs, and to keep a tight lid on memories of the village she left behind when she came to Kumasi to be a housegirl.

Mary is still learning the rules. Eleven years old and irrepressible, the young housegirl-in-training is the little sister Belinda never had.

Amma has had enough of the rules. A straight-A pupil at her exclusive South-London school, she has always been the pride of her Ghanaian parents. Until now. Watching their once-confident teenager grow sullen and wayward, they decide that sensible Belinda might be just the shining example Amma needs.

So Belinda is summoned from Ghana to London, to befriend a troubled girl who shows no desire for her friendship. She encounters a city as bewildering as it is exciting, and as she tries to impose order on her unsettling new world, Belinda’s phonecalls back home to Mary become a lifeline.

As the Brixton summer turns to autumn, Belinda and Amma are surprised to discover the beginnings of an unexpected kinship. But when the cracks in their defences open up, the secrets they have both been holding tight to threaten to seep out.

Hold is a difficult book for me to review because there are some aspects of it that I absolutely loved, but other aspects that didn't work for me at all. It is a novel in three sections - two set in Ghana with a London section in between. I loved Michael Donkor's depictions of both locations. Each is vivid and exciting and we get to see, hear and even smell Daban and Brixton. The linking character, Belinda, is new to each place so I liked the details she observes and the glaring contrasts, especially her shock at how successful Ghanaians live in London compared to their lives 'back home'. Donkor scatters Ghanaian expressions and phrases throughout the story - there's  glossary at the front - which strongly adds to the authenticity.

I was interested to note that the majority of Donkor's characters are female - and believably female at that - which is unusual for a male author. Belinda especially is wonderfully complex. She has had to learn quiet repression as her survival strategy and struggles to impart this lesson to either exhuberant Mary or westernised Amma. I wasn't convinced by the idea that two teenagers from such different backgrounds and temperaments would gel so deeply and so swiftly so the intense denouement of their coming together felt forced to me although I could see why it was portrayed in this way. I didn't like the open-endedness of the stories either. To me, Hold felt like it left important ideas unresolved, for two of the three girls anyway. Donkor cleverly explores ideas of belonging and identity, but then leaves his characters seemingly stranded without giving readers a sense of conclusion. I appreciated being able to share in their physical and emotional journeys, but need to know what happened next!

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Michael Donkor / Contemporary fiction / Books from England


  1. It's not my kind of book but thanks for letting us know about this one.

  2. This has been on my radar, it's hard to review books that you have mixed feelings on, great review!

    Tori @ In Tori Lex

    1. I'd be interested to know what you think of Hold if you get a chance to read it. There's lots of positives, but negatives too

  3. Great review for book of which you have had mixed feelings. ♥️

  4. Is this #OwnVoices, either for Black-British or Ghanaian? Or is it by a white author? Just wondering, because it can affect the rep. a lot :)

    1. Michael Donkor was born in Britain and his family are Ghanaian so this is #OwnVoices except that he's not a teenage girl!

    2. Haha, being a teenage girl isn't a pre-requisite for #OwnVoices ;)

  5. I really love the cover of this book and the premise intrigued me a lot. I love the sound of getting to see the two cultures represented and I really love that the author, although male, writes a lot of women characters male. When it comes to adult fiction by male authors I find that sometimes the female representation is just missing completely? Which doesn't seem like a true reflection of reality. But I can see about how the two teens melding too quickly and easily might not be so convincing.

    1. Donkor does a great job of presenting all the female characters I thonk, young and older